Lawyers’ Licenses Withheld

Chinese authorities use the annual license inspection to intimidate lawyers.

Chinese lawyer Tang Jitian (R) and his colleague Liu Wei look through legal documents in Beijing on April 29, 2010. Tang and Liu were disbarred earlier in 2010.
AFP/Olli Geibel

HONG KONG—Chinese authorities have refused to renew the professional licenses of several prominent rights lawyers in this year’s inspection.  Other rights lawyers were forced to clear extra hurdles before passing the annual inspection, which has been criticized as a mechanism to control what cases lawyers represent.

Prominent rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, whose license was not renewed this year for the second time, told RFA, “Now some new conditions are appearing.  It seems that … before allowing them to pass they requested many lawyers write various guarantees—not to take on certain cases, not to receive interviews, etc.”

Other rights lawyers who did not pass included Wen Haibo, Zhang Lihui, Tong Chaoping, Yang Huiwen, and Li Jinsong, according to a statement from the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group on Friday.

The inspection process, which is conducted by the local lawyers associations, examines individual lawyers’ work over the past year and requires lawyers to register, pay a fee, and receive approval for renewal of their licenses.   This year’s inspection ended on Thursday.

When lawyers lose their licenses in the inspection, the cases they currently represent are unable to proceed.

The process, for which the deadline was postponed this year to July 15 from the original date in May, has been criticized as a mechanism for controlling individual lawyer’s behavior and preventing them from taking on sensitive cases.

Jiang Tianyong had represented sensitive cases including the defense of Tibet protesters and Falun Gong members. Jiang, who has testified in the U.S. Congress on rule of law issues in China, said Chinese Justice Bureau authorities refused to even accept his application materials for the annual inspection.  

Another rights lawyer, Wen Haibo, who had worked with the disappeared lawyer Gao Zhisheng, also failed the inspection for the second year in a row.  

“I went to the relevant department for the inspection but they said that because I didn’t pass last year, if I wanted to recover [my license] then I’d have to apply again for certification.  But because I’m not from Beijing, it is difficult to reapply,” he said. 

Pressure on Law Firms

“Now the authorities’ main methods are to go through the law firm to exert pressure,” Wen said. 

Jiang said, “They put a lot of requirements on law firms, even making lawyers make strict promises, and at the same time making them pay guarantee deposits.  But as soon as they say they are going to do a certain case, this insurance money disappears.”

One lawyer who did not want to be publicly identified told RFA that the authorities went through the law firm where he works to put pressure on him, requiring him to promise not to represent cases that the authorities consider sensitive, and only after that gave him his license.

The law firm also required him to give a 10,000 RMB deposit, to be used as punishment if he breaks his promise.

He said the move was illegal and unreasonable, but he had no choice but to accept it.

Other Obstacles

Other rights lawyers did not fail the inspection but passed only after much difficulty or after facing extra conditions for approval.  Li Xiongbing, Li Heping, and Li Jinglin were only able to pass the inspection a few days before the deadline, according to the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group. 

Chang Boyang, a rights lawyer from Henan, told RFA that he passed this year’s review and was allowed to keep his license, but only after judicial administrative authorities stamped the words “failed” on his license.

“They said it was because I represented a Falun Gong case and didn’t report it,” Chang said.    

Chang said there was no provision in the law requiring lawyers to report their taking on sensitive cases.  “It’s something they made up themselves,” he said.

Chang explained that having the stamp on his license does not affect his ability to practice, but does lead to misunderstandings because others do not know this. 

Chang had previously represented cases such as those of victims of a tainted milk scandal and Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen.  

In May of this year, he collected a hundred lawyers’ signatures on a petition against the practice of using mental illness as an excuse to illegally detain activists and put them under psychiatric care. 

Tang Jitian, another prominent rights lawyer, commented on Chang’s situation saying, “Strictly speaking, the Justice bureau doesn’t have the right to put stamps on law licenses. But nevertheless lawyers are now under a special situation and no one dares speak out, much less resist this illegal practice."

Tang Jitian was disbarred earlier this year.

In May 2009, at the end of last year’s inspection, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice refused to renew the licenses of over 50 lawyers. One week later, Beijing authorities closed down the Open Constitution Initiative, a legal research center.

Original reporting by Xin Yu for RFA’s Mandarin service and by Ji Lisi for RFA’s Cantonese service.  Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li.  Translated and written for the Web in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.


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